Posted by: lisetta | September 1, 2008

Fruit for thought

Though fruit season is coming to its natural end, fig season is upon us, and this is reason to celebrate. The Greek Goddess Demeter calls figs the “fruit of autumn” … 

I adore figs. Their nondescript exterior conceals an irresistibly sweet and textured interior that brings much delight. I grew up thinking figs were sticky and chewy, like the inside of the Fig Newton, but remember vividly the first fresh fig I ate, shortly after arriving in Italy. Chicca and I were walking around a nearby village when she climbed up and picked a ‘fico’ from someone’s tree. Humbled by her surprise that I neither knew the English translation of nor had ever seen this strange fruit, I remember the disappointment of discovering something “known” when I found its translation in my dictionary. I remember, too, wondering why I never had the chance to try a fresh fig at home.

Twenty years later, I think about fresh figs much differently, and now seek them out at any price. Just got a pint at Carlino’s, for $6.35. A bargain, right? Not only do I get to savor its taste in my mouth, I also get to ascribe new meaning to its place in a larger context.  While the fig’s bounty lies in its nondescript exterior, other plants display their bounty with a much different strategy. In a BBC Audio slideshow entitled “Fruit Under the Microscope“, for example, Kew Gardens’ seed morphologist Wofgang Stuppy describes this further: 

There are a few plants that actually have developed a strategy that is not quite very honest. Their fruits suggest that it would [be a food source] because they’re brightly colored but actually, the animals will discover that there isn’t really any edible reward for them in exchange for the dispersal of the seeds.

Abrus precatorius (crab’s eye) picture by Garry Sankowsky, found here

The so-called snow wood, or pararchidendrum pruinosum, from Australia or from the Malaysia New Guinea [is another example]. The inside of the food is brightly orange red colored; shiny black seeds are displayed before this orange background. It looks very edible but actually there is nothing edible to it. 


Demeter rewarded Phytalos with a fig tree for his generous hospitality in receiving her during her wanderings. Though I’ve been wandering all summer long, I’ve yet to find a room at the Inn. Perhaps the Goddess of the harvest will smile upon my efforts to end my nomadic wanderings … or perhaps I should simply continue planting seedlings wherever I wander, hoping one will eventually bear an irresistible fruit worth savoring? 🙂



  1. […] You can, however, attempt, in vain, to fight the excess estrogen cursing through your body and instead focus on applying a basic principle of positive psychology: gratitude. Thankful to be sitting at the table again with a fabulous photographer. Note that the pizzas look good … just like the pararchidendrum pruinosum: […]

  2. A colleague brought in fresh figs he grew in his garden (read: large land filled with fruit and vegetables) As he opened the container he casually asks: what kind would you like? My God why am I moving back to the East Coast? It’s fresh everything year round here in California.

  3. You are moving back to the East Coast, Martin, because you can no longer stand the vapid conversations of dim witted LA women. (We’re curvier and wrinklier here tho.) OK, so we don’t have many tree ripened figs (shit) or avocados (dammit) or clementines (wah) or almonds (*&^$) or gigantic bushes of rosemary growing on the beach, but …. WE MISS YOU on the East Coast! I can’t wait for our first Philly Iron Chef event. Maybe we should choose figs as our ingredient? Better hurry back! — Beware, though, that the East Coast will pepper your speech with curse words. I try and resist every now and then, but it’s fucking futile. I have only been to Pittsburgh three times in a whole year. 😦

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